WHO member nations agree to negotiate pandemic convention or treaty

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London: World Health Organisation member nations have agreed to begin negotiating a potential pandemic treaty that would govern and coordinate a global response next time there is a pandemic.

It means a legally binding response convention that would determine a fairer production and distribution of vaccines for the next pandemic could be implemented in early 2024.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus hailed the “historic and vital” decision.Credit:AP

The agreement was struck at a special session of the World Health Assembly convened specifically to resolve the failures of the world to respond in a coordinated way to fight and constrain the COVID-19 pandemic, which has killed at least 5.2 million people worldwide since it emerged in Wuhan, China.

It is the second time ever that the assembly has met for an unscheduled sitting, following several reports which pinpointed structural weaknesses in the global health architecture overseen by WHO, whose rules are determined by its 194 member nations.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus described the decision as “historic and vital.”

“The adoption of this decision is cause for celebration, and cause for hope, which we will need,” he said at the opening session of the assembly.

“Of course, there is still a long road ahead. There are still differences of opinion about what a new accord could or should contain.“

“But you have proven to each other and the world that differences can be overcome, and common ground can be found.”

While the WHA did not use the word ‘treaty’ in its statement, it said the convention or instrument agreed to would be created under Article 19 of its constitution, meaning it would be legally binding.

The global community has agreed to a Convention under Article 19 just once before; the WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control in 2005. That took about four years to negotiate.

The first talks on a possible pandemic treaty will begin next March and continue in August after consultations.

The goal is to have an outcome for the Assembly to consider by May 2024.

The joint World Bank and WHO oversight body, the Global Preparedness Monitoring Board, which called for a legally binding agreement in its 2020 report and again in recent months, welcomed the assembly’s decision.

“The GPMB is of the view that a legally binding agreement, covering all aspects of pandemic prevention, preparedness and response, is an essential tool to ensure sustained political commitment, strengthen leadership, and facilitate collective action in preparedness and response,” the board said in a statement.

“In short, in can address all the failings we have witnessed in this and previous pandemics and outbreaks,” the Board said.

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